ARC CEO Sue Thomas

Welcome to another edition of ARChway.

As is the case with so many of you across the country, all ARC staff, myself included, have shifted again to working remotely for an extended time with the ACT in lockdown since 12 August.

This took place just as we began a week of grants selection meetings, which meant that all participants in our selection advisory committees were entirely online for these meetings for the first time in the ARC’s history of grants administration. Although last year’s selection meetings were partially online, lockdown this year required a complete online implementation. With new robust procedures adapted for the online environment, a sophisticated meeting application in the Research Management System (RMS) and with ICT support, these meetings were also delivered successfully, enabling the ARC to continue to deliver funding outcomes that will support researchers in the recovery period and beyond.

This is just one example of how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to evolve and impact the ARC and the research sector. We have also recently updated pre-award and post-award guidance on the ARC website to take account of this changing environment. The new guidance provides options for researchers and administrators to consider in responding to the specific impact of COVID on their project(s). The ARC will continue to monitor the situation and update guidance and FAQs as required.

Preprint eligibility progress

As you are likely aware, the ARC has been responding to important feedback from the sector about an issue affecting eligibility for some of our recent grant rounds. The strengthening of a rule for all applications relating to the inclusion of preprints resulted in a small number of applications submitted being assessed as ineligible.

In response, during September, we consulted with key stakeholders to work through how a change could work fairly in practice. With the reaching of consensus, the ARC issued a statement outlining what is changing: Adjustments to the ARC’s position on preprints. To summarise, it was to allow their inclusion for all grant rounds moving forward.

The ARC continues to work through the change to preprint requirements including for schemes that were already open, as well as still to open. This is an ongoing process that requires a number of important processes, system and legislative changes and we appreciate patience while these are put in place.

Please find more in our newsletter and further information about our progress will continue to be communicated to the sector as we are in a position to do so.

ARC publications

We are pleased to have issued our annual edition of Making a difference: Outcomes of ARC funded research in September which showcases the wonderful diversity of research funded through the schemes of the ARC. The publication can be viewed on our website, and a modest number will be printed in the near future, which will be distributed across universities – you can read more about this year’s edition below.

Since the last edition of ARChway, the ARC also released our ARC 2021-22 Corporate Plan. The Corporate Plan is an integral part of our planning and reporting framework, and clearly conveys the direction the ARC will take over the coming four years. During the course of this plan, the ARC will work hard to fulfil its purpose – to fund the highest quality research, assess the quality, engagement and impact of research, and provide advice on research matters.

Continuing progress on NCGP activities

I’d like to provide an update on a number of other key National Competitive Grants Program activities and processes that have been ongoing.

The following funding announcements have been made since the June edition of ARChway:

  • The 2021 Australian Laureate Fellowships were awarded on 7 July 2021, with 17 Laureate Fellows receiving $53.7 million in funding.
  • Under the Industrial Transformation Research Program (ITRP), $36.4 million was awarded to 8 new Research Hubs and $37.8 to 8 new Training Centres on 21 July 2021.
  • On 29 July 2021, $31.7 million was awarded in funding to 67 new research projects in the final of three assessment rounds for Linkage Projects 2020.
  • On 11 August 2021, 100 new Future Fellows received $93 million under the 2021 ARC Future Fellowships scheme.
  • A total of $83 million was awarded to 196 new early career research projects on 16 August 2021, under the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award scheme.

This month I also officiated the virtual launches of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Enabling Eco-Efficient Beneficiation of Minerals based at The University of Newcastle and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Dark Matter Particle Physics led by The University of Melbourne as part of our 2020 cohort of Centre of Excellence funding. During November and December, we will also have quite a number of ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centres and Research Hubs celebrating the commencement of their research programs. Due to Covid, many of these official launches have been postponed due to lockdowns and uncertainty surrounding travel, so I am pleased to see these all getting underway.

Our Executive Directors have been continuing to engage with the research community, virtually hosting webinars across universities on topics ranging from writing competitive applications and rejoinders to post-award matters. You can read more about these activities in this newsletter.

Over the last few months, the ARC Major Investments team also conducted a virtual seminar series  to inform Research Office stakeholders on key issues that are specific to ARC Major Investments: ARC Centres of Excellence, Industrial Transformation Research Program and Special Research Initiatives. Each session focused on different topics including preparations for Major investments applications; establishment best practice; variations and reporting; and wind down best practice. The ARC will continue this forum on an ad-hoc basis to share key messaging for its Major Investments.  

Also concluded recently were the virtual mid-term review interviews for all ARC Centres of Excellence that commenced in 2017. The ARC would like to thank all the Centre members and stakeholders who prepared and attended the reviews as well as the administrative and Research Office staff who supported the process. The Review Reports are currently being finalised and circulated back to the Centres and the ARC is progressing the responses to the recommendations.

I hope that this update provides some assurance that the ARC’s NCGP processes and activities are continuing, that the ARC is getting on with business, as well as responding to the needs of the sector during these challenging and unprecedented times.